Close encounters of the Japanese kind!

Aleta Fimbres 10/01/2009

I didn’t know you could travel to another planet on a Boeing 747. Ohayo Tokyo! I come in peace. After going through the “Aliens” section at Narita Airport Immigration, I took the limousine bus from the airport to downtown Tokyo, which was simple enough, although it took almost two hours.

See author’s photos here

The hotel was in an area called Shimbashi, which is located slap-bang in the city centre near to the Ginza district. Modern and impeccably clean, I dropped my bags, grabbed a beer from the mini-bar, and went to play with the electronic toilet. Such a fascinating device.

You can squirt your front bits, your derriere, and even choose from a selection of musical pieces to disguise unexpected and embarrassing parps and bowl-bombardments. I could have spent hours sat there drinking my Sapporo and pressing buttons, but I had arranged to hook up with a couple of Tokyo-ites who were keen to take me out to see the sights.

Historian Edward Seidensticker once described this teeming megalopolis as “the world’s most consistently interesting city”, and that’s a difficult statement to fault. At every turn is a photo opportunity staring you in the face. Western architecture. Ancient Japanese temples and traditional kabuki theatres.

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Ye olde Worlde English ale taverns serving chicken yakitori on sticks and octopus balls. Futuristic facades. Lollypop-sucking schoolgirls wearing heavy make-up, micro skirts and boots with soles that would put a thick loaf of bread to shame. Tokyo’s got it all and then some. Shopping, for instance, is any woman’s dream come true. Just grab your credit card, hit the Ginza district, check out the top boutiques and gigantic department stores, and literally shop until you drop.

Then to replace lost energy for yet more shopping, just grab a seat at any one of the many ramen houses and slurp away like a local. And unlike in the more upmarket restaurants, a mouth-watering serving of noodles won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Shibuya is another place you can check out for an unforgettable retail therapy session.

Geared towards a younger audience, you can find hordes of wildly-dressed youngsters enjoying the buzz, huge outdoor plasma screens, quirky windowdisplays, and eating and drinking establishments galore. Just a couple of subway stops away is Harajuku, which has a similar vibe to the fashionable Carnaby Street and Camden Market in London.

Packed with punks, goths and schoolgirls with faces that remind me of the black and white minstrels, the shops and stalls offer a rich blend of the colourful, the cute and the downright outrageous. An interesting find was the 100 Yen Shop, where everything costs exactly what it says on the sign outside. I was like a child shopping for toys here and picked up all sorts, including some Magical Inflating Breasts for Men, which I’ll probably never use, but the packaging is fun to look at.

Japanese hospitality and politeness really blew me away. But with the constant bowing to others around me, wherever I was, I’ve been walking around Singapore like the Hunchback of Notre Dame since I got back. Anyway, I can remember walking back to my hotel one night and I felt like a nightcap, which turned out to be enough nightcaps to satisfy an army of Oliver Reed clones!

From the outside, it looked like a noodle shop, but the minute I stepped inside I was transported back in time to 18th century middle England, minus bonneted women carrying baskets and men armed with swords and ridiculous hairstyles. I was absolutely amazed! Stone floors, low ceilings and wooden-panelled walls. “Jolly good!” I said to myself, perched myself at to the bar, and ordered a pint of bitter from the “beer master”.

However, within minutes a smartly-dressed man called me over to his table in a small alcove and I happily toddled over. He was with what I presume was his colleague and some beautiful specimens of the female kind. So of course, I obliged and took a seat. As his guest, he insisted that he paid for all my beer and food for the rest of the night, which was rather nice of him.

So we drank, we laughed, and we chatted away for a while and then I was struck with another surprise. Two authentic geisha girls came and joined us and sat next to the two businessmen. Bloody hell! It’s definitely nothing I ever imagined would happen to me. Picture this. I’m sat in a smelly, tobacco-stained working men’s club in Northern England, drinking Newcastle Brown and playing cards with Doris and Horace.

Then a gorgeous geisha strolls in, sits next to me, says “Ey up love”, and lights me up a Benson. Never! So as you can imagine, I was delighted to be there. So after more pints and glasses of sake than I can remember and plate after plate of meat on skewers and fish that had never seen the inside of a frying pan, I bowed a few times, said the mandatory “aligato gozaimas”, and staggered home.

What a night! For an out-of-this-world experience, Japan is the place. Goodbye Kitty. “Tokyo to Singapore, we have take-off!”


How to get there: Closer than you might think, even though worlds apart, a round trip ticket to Tokyo should only set you back S$80 to $630 and Singaporeans can find their best prices at www.misatravel.com. Be sure to book a hotel in advance as often times you can save a lot of money that way. Tokyo, as every big city in Japan, enjoys a very well developed public transportation system, but if punctuality is important take a cab.

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